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CRACK THE SPINE

Issue Five


Crack The Spine Issue Five January 2, 2012 Edited by Kerri Farrell Foley Collection copyright 2012 by Crack The Spine

Cover Art ―Through Spine‖ by Jacob Oet Jacob Oet lives in Solon, Ohio. Jacob's poetry and images appear in Palooka Journal, Straylight Magazine, Moonshot Magazine, Petrichor Machine, and OVS Magazine among others. His awards include the 2011 Younkin-Rivera Poetry Prize and the 2011 Ohioana Robert Fox Award. Jacob's first chapbook, Metamorphosis, is forthcoming in 2012 from Kattywompus Press. Student by choice, Jacob Oet is never sure which language he speaks. You may spot him in a park, forest or beach, with planted feet, arms stretched up and shaking in a breeze. But don’t let him see you; he likes to sing to strangers. He takes photos of snow, and hates winter.


Contents Les Wicks……………….……………..……………….………….The Gift Rime Kenneth Radu…………………………...…….…………..Falling Apples Jacob Oet……………………..…..…………………………….…….Steam Bird Moses Carnation Milan Smith…….……………………………....…………..Paper Weight Kenneth P. Gurney…………….…...Suicide Can Not Be Conclusively Blamed on Occupation Joan McNerney…………………………….……...……………..AM/PM Tobi Cogswell..…..Veranda Coffee Shop, Last Day of the Conference


The Gift By Les Wicks

Whatever you want these words could terrify, a kind of assault. I testify by kisses chuck in a few violins… tinder & hope I get launched up.

Rime By Les Wicks

A tonsure of frosted leaves saline drench then clench before release Autumn is failure, abysmal mix of miser & mincing, it owns the stage… doesn’t even linger for the adulate applause of bitter winds.

LES WICKS has toured widely and seen publication across 15 countries in 9 languages. His 8th book of poetry is The Ambrosiacs (Island, 2009).


Falling Apples By Kenneth Radu

He had lived so long that even talking about the weather failed to interest him. So Carson took to climbing the apple tree, not a very high tree, but one thoughtful enough to provide accessible and sturdy lower branches. The residential gardener had pruned it well. The tree – Carson believed it was a Courtland – spread wide, open to the sun, and allowed his attenuated body to fit among the branches. A ladder not being handy, he had taken one of the white plastic lawn chairs from the nearby gazebo, placed it against the trunk, hooked his cane on its back and, although unsteady and wobbly, he did not topple when he stepped up to the seat. Carson hoisted himself on to a conveniently positioned and sturdy branch, carefully turned his thin torso, raised one leg, painful in the knee which awaited replacement surgery, and there he was out on a limb. Warned not to repeat the dangerous action after he had been first discovered by the gardener in May, Carson nonetheless returned like a cat intent on a nest of fledglings and tried to retreat from view into such leaves as were capable of hiding him. From the residence with its two rows of windows he could be espied, a favourite activity therein. This time he knew that Pyotr the intolerant gardener had left for his September holiday, a Caribbean cruise, he had informed the old biddies before they trundled into the dining hall, good to go before hurricane season struck. The ladies had giggled over their non-slip walkers, for so many required scaffolding, and hoped the weather wouldn’t ruin his holiday as they fluttered their wrinkled eyelids. Carson had blown his nose as he crossed the threshold, relying only on a cane for support. The soup as usual was cold and lasagna thin and watery. He complained about it to the young witless server. The climbing knocked several apples off and they lay on the uncut grass below like windfalls. The residence used the apples, juicy and crisp, mostly wormless, although few of the wizened crones and toothless dragons could comfortably bite into one anymore without dislodging their dentures. Well, the virtue of sitting in an apple tree, dangling his feet in their orthopedic shoes, was that he didn’t have to share the space or pretend to like anyone who didn’t like him. No one did and yet they remained pleasant. Perhaps age had weakened antipathies, allowing an amiable indifference to settle in and make dining with three obviously hostile companions companionable. Of course, administrators, servers, caregivers, cooks, clerks, and visiting nurses all put on their good cheer face like a Halloween mask when they met in the corridors or lounge or pharmacy. Their voices changed the moment they spoke to him: a grating musicality in rhythm, a sing-song


effect like nursery rhymes, as if they were addressing a five year old or a nonagenarian bed-wetter still embarrassed by incontinence. Some rooms smelled of piss. He did not think he snarled although he might harrumph more than was politic. The last words his wife had whispered before she drifted into a coma, then death, a year ago: what a shame, no one really likes you, Carson. I wish they did. I think I did. You must try harder. I won’t be here to see you through, my dear. Dare he eat an apple? Not wishing to disturb his position he refrained from plucking lest he knock even more fruit off the accommodating tree. His knees thrummed with pain. The waiting list was long and the superannuated could not lay claim to the privileges of seniority. Adele Cochrane had waited two years for knee replacement surgery, a successful operation as it turned out, then she died three weeks later from an embolism in her dried out brain. At least one death a month in the residence. Everyone sighed, commiserated with any surviving partner or visiting family, then sucked up their Jell-O. He had neither surviving partner nor other family. The late September weather remained sunny but cool, and he had had the forethought to wear a sweater overlaid with a windbreaker. Tomorrow would be his ninetieth birthday. It was customary for the kitchen staff to bring out a cake with one symbolic candle and everyone to sing a cracked and dispirited Happy Birthday. The kitchen staff had phoned to ask him if he preferred chocolate or vanilla. He replied neither and told them not to bother. The young person at the other end of the line had chuckled, so they would ignore his request because each birthday seemed to give reason for manufactured joy to keep up spirits. Last week they had strung pink and yellow streamers in the dining hall to celebrate Sophie Lukac’s one hundredth. Several nonagenarians had struggled to their feet to applaud when they wheeled the old lady in. Her one surviving son who looked almost as old as he (who could tell the difference?), and one surviving daughter who needed assistance to walk, seven very mature grandchildren, four great grandchildren and two great great grandchildren, crying babes in arms, had joined the festivities. Desolate cheer was had by some. He recalled a poem he had memorized in school, a poem about climbing an apple tree and he tried to dredge up the lines, the details. Emily had enjoyed an excellent memory to the very end. Perhaps they would return since many details did when he stopped trying to remember, but he had forgotten much forever. No, not a symptom of Alzheimer’s, a common misconception. People just forgot things as they got older. Memory lapses weren’t necessarily signs of dementia or other diseases. The mind grew weary and constricted. If not exercised and refreshed somehow, memory shrunk like an old man’s prick, and a host of facts and snippets of experience decayed. Sometimes he forgot his wife’s middle name. He remembered the name of their dead child. There were no grandchildren to remember.


His body was stiffening in the tree and Carson wondered if he’d be able to get down as easily as he had climbed up. Still too early for lunch, there was no place to go except the lounge or his two room apartment with the specially designed shower stall that could accommodate wheelchairs. No bathtub. Everyone feared falling which, curiously, in the tree he did not. One didn’t have to fall very far or very hard for trouble to ensue, given bones rendered brittle by osteoporosis. He remembered the two men who had fallen a month ago in the carpeted corridor, tripped over a thread or some such thing, cracked their hips, taken to hospital in ambulances and never returned. What were their names? This was neither a prison nor a nursing home, a pleasant enough final abode, pisspots notwithstanding: clean carpets in the corridors, teapots and white linen in the dining room. Freshly baked goods available daily in the lounge. Air-conditioning that worked. The poor need not apply. Assisted living for autonomous seniors, they called it. He hated the word seniors as he was not a member of a high school basketball team. He was elderly, he was old, what shame in saying so? Some residents prepared their own meals in their private kitchenettes. He had a small refrigerator, sink and microwave, but no stove. Emily and he paid for the two meals a day plan, preferring to make their own simple breakfast of cereal and toast or coddled egg. That way he didn’t have to put up with morning hacking and wheezing in the dining room. He could go for a walk around the extensive grounds, or even down the street towards the town centre and stop in the coffee and doughnut shop. Pyotr disliked profusion, so he and his hired hands kept the gardens as clipped and precise as a modern cemetery. Begonias, impatiens and hostas appeared year after year in a perfect order of discrete units. Carson yawned. Fatigue struck him out of nowhere for no accountable reason, coming and going like a kind of tide. Since Emily’s death he sometimes gasped aloud, his lungs searching for air. He no longer attended movie night. Regardless of the noise blaring from the speakers, he failed to stay consistently awake. Sitting in the dark led to drowsiness, then sleep, waking, more drifting off, and he missed the plot. Would he lose his balance and tumble out of the tree? Someone from the residence would surely see and call for help if he just lay there pondering the passage of time and the swift approach of demise. He did not reminisce, seldom spoke of his past like so many residents whose repeated regurgitations of their life made him want to die over desert. What did it matter to anyone if he had fought in a war, attended universities, and made enough money in one business or another to pay his bills? People entered and exited one’s life. He must have stepped on myriad toes in pursuit of profit. And yes, he had been abrupt as a boss, sharp with such friends as he had. Old age did not dull but honed the razor. Cuts had been plentiful. There had been quick shags with office workers, a love affair or


two, but Carson wasn’t sure if memory served him correctly or fancy played tricks. He had lost an only child and was bereft of heirs. Oh yes, there had been volunteer work for a local animal shelter as both Emily and he had liked animals, and contributions to selected charities and attempts to ease unspeakable suffering in other parts of the world with a cheque or two. He had done that out of collective guilt rather than belief. They had travelled, a rather pointless endeavor as he was no better off or more knowledgeable after the expense and bother than he had been before packing. Now he even avoided the day trips for residents, preferring not to be confined in a bus with a gaggle of the ancient, lame and halt to see farm animals or a special matinee of some god-awful high school musical. He had not murdered anyone, did not need to search his conscience for the unconscionable. Neither better nor worse than most children, if he recalled, he had loved his parents and siblings, but all had vanished, their connections in his mind no more tangible than that wisps of cirrus clouds curling on the horizon. He did not feel compelled to prepare a non-existent soul to meet an imaginary Maker on the implausible Judgment Day. He could not abide talking with the smarmy chaplain. Carson looked up and blinked against the fierceness of sunlight breaking among the leaves. No sudden revelation of ultimate meaning, the light hurt his eyes. He should have worn sunglasses. And Emily should not have died before him, she should not have fallen like an overripe apple from this well-pruned tree, not left him to face all the world’s dislike alone. It was worse at breakfast time when he could no longer hear the crunch of her cereal or watch her slice a banana in his bowl. Peering among the leaves, he saw two residents, too far away to recognize, trundle on their walkers towards the gazebo, a younger couple following them, laughing. All along he didn’t think he minded, not having any more children after the loss of the baby, he never gave it any thought for the desire seemed to have died. Emily and he just stopped talking about it. Dear Emily. Ah, well, someone had to go first. He looked up to the sky, squinting. What a dreadful fate, after all, to be the last. It could well be possible for him to climb a bit higher if he maneuvered his body in such a way among the branches so he could stand, albeit in somewhat twisted, precarious position. Carson shifted, turning torso and head, raising an arm and leg, despite the protesting knee and a certain shakiness of his frame. He hoisted himself up to another, thinner branch. The tree shook and several apples fell with a soft thud on to the grass which Pyotr kept flat and smooth like a winding sheet. Wrapping one arm around and pressed against the trunk like a lover, his legs unsteady, his shoulders and head rising above the top of the outspread branches, his face smacked lightly by twigs and leaves as he ascended, Carson stood. He quickly recovered from a slipping foot,


inhaled deeply, his lungs hurt, and surveyed the grounds from his new vantage point. Of course, from any of the windows his head could be seen like a giant mottled apple bobbing on top of the tree. He hated lawn work, always had, and never much cared for nature anyway. Emily had spent most of her working days in the basement records department of a large hospital. Their condo had provided all the amenities and space they needed. The money made from selling it when they decided to downsize, as the phrase went, combined with savings, investments, pensions, gave them ample to enjoy a fine and leisurely retirement. What on earth was he going to do with it all? At the end of his life he was rich. Their respective wills left everything to the surviving spouse. He needed to rewrite it, find a beneficiary. He preferred to avoid the risk of any chance and remote relation on some imperceptible branch of the family tree claiming it, or the predations of the government. Perhaps an organization that cared for homeless children in Africa. Or, indeed, take it with him to the grave. The pharaohs had taken riches to their tomb. His head above the tree, the breeze rustling leaves and the last of his thin grey hair, his body trembled and he felt his feet slipping just as both a yawn and a sudden memory contorted the wrinkles of his brow: For I have had too much Of apple-picking: I am overtired Of the great harvest I myself desired. Well, he supposed the poet – yes, a wintery name – see, his memory had not turned to stone – Frost had it right. Books had not been his first love and he resented having to read poetry in school, but here it was, mingled among algebraic equations, a few prime ministers, the current price of oil, Peggy’s Cove, Banff park, a spitting camel in Egypt, ah, Charlotte, Emily’s middle name, it was all there still. I have had too much/Of apple-picking. Too much and one is fatigued at the end by everything. He didn’t think the rest of the poem would come to him. He heard the young man’s loud laughter, even chuckles from the decrepit ones, which made Carson abruptly shift his body as if compelled to descend and join the general merriment in the gazebo. He would search for the poem in the local library which he had stopped going to after Emily’s death. The money also needed attention. His foot seemed to fling itself off, he could not recover his balance, he lost his grip. The fall was awkward, broken momentarily by Carson’s body cracking against a couple of branches before it slipped between them, his arms ineffectual in their grasping for a hold, his cheeks scratched by twigs, fruit shaken loose and tumbling down by the


dozen. He did not know if he cried out as he landed softly as apple on the grass, his face turned up, his breath knocked out of collapsed lungs, and his arms and legs feeling as if they were no longer attached. His back arched in an unaccustomed way as if he were stretching over a mound of apples and he tried to adjust his position. His body refused to respond to his wishes. Someone yelled, but that could well have been the strange pounding in his brain like pummeling against a door. What was it that he wanted to do? Like the lines from the poem: if he did not try too hard, it would all come back to him. Before his eyes closed and a darkness drifted into his mind, Carson stared straight into the sun which did not blind, he did not squint, and he saw nothing, nothing at all.

Kenneth Radu’s stories have appeared in various online magazines including Moon Milk Review, Danse Macabre, Foundling Review, etc. His latest collection of short fiction, Sex in Russia: New and Selected Stories, was published in 2010 by DC Books Canada.


Steam By Jacob Oet

I remember the stone-thick hand over my mouth—my father keeping me from shame. At the drive-in theater I saw something so disgusting I told him I wanted to scream. I don’t remember how my eyes glazed over, the blood I bit loose, the ground shaking— all the details he filled in later, when the color was seeping into my cheeks. But the sensation I was water trapped, ready and coming to boil, ready to lift up curtains of air, shrieking like gospels. I still don’t know their names. Ghosts. I called them. No answer, but they must have heard me screaming in my sealed head, for like dust all was settled in my hair. Yes. The familiar lip-bite again. How many times a habit breaks back into you? I did not have their number. Dialing old, ―how do you do,‖ whispering in the lifting bed darkness, steam trapped inside a punching bag, knowing the palm flat over trembling cloth tight mouth… ―I remember. I don’t remember.‖

Bird Moses By Jacob Oet

Subtlety as art, how waves bore me. Afraid of sitting in a nest of my own, a great palace on my own I’ll learn flight.


Carnation By Jacob Oet

The empty body is around us. I forget my lines. The empty body we enter in turn. I fill this silent life with laughter. I clown, I fake. Wearing his nose, that dress. Know what else breaks form? The river—first to reflections, then her hands, a tragic girl I saw in a movie once. I step up, bow my head, the tree saluting grass. I say nothing to the dead. The dead are dead. I have left. Taking root, I am standing up straight.

Jacob Oet lives in Solon, Ohio. Jacob's poetry and images appear in Palooka Journal, Straylight Magazine, Moonshot Magazine, Petrichor Machine, and OVS Magazine among others. His awards include the 2011 Younkin-Rivera Poetry Prize and the 2011 Ohioana Robert Fox Award. Jacob's first chapbook, Metamorphosis, is forthcoming in 2012 from Kattywompus Press. Student by choice, Jacob Oet is never sure which language he speaks. You may spot him in a park, forest or beach, with planted feet, arms stretched up and shaking in a breeze. But don’t let him see you; he likes to sing to strangers. He takes photos of snow, and hates winter.


Paper Weight By Milan Smith

It was past eleven when Joe Daniels swaggered through the front door and up to the counter, one hand in his coat pocket. The coat was too small for his thick waist and chest and it flapped around his belly. Behind the counter sat the 60-year-old receptionist, who now looked up. "Heya, Janeane," Daniels said, grinning. He was loud, and two young women at the far end looked up. "Hello, Mr. Daniels," Janeane said. Daniels leaned over the counter, and she wrinkled her nose as he got close, at the heavy smell of unwashed sweat. Daniels picked up a copy of the day's newspaper. "What's been happening all morning?" he asked. His voice carried through the hall to the reporters beyond, and several heads turned. "Oh, not much," Janeane said. "It's been a slow morning." "Yeah, usually is in this town." Daniels' jaw began trembling, and he snapped it shut and swung around to the two young women behind the counter. "You doing all right?" he asked. "Sure are," one said. The other nodded. "That's good," Daniels said. He turned back to Janeane. "Is that publisher of mine around?" he asked. "He's out 'til this afternoon," Janeane said. "Good, good," Daniels said, his hand fidgeting in his coat pocket. "Look Janeane, I have a meeting with Bob Dalton at noon. When he comes in, call me, would ya?" "Sure," Janeane said. It was an odd request, of course she'd call him, what else would she do? "And tell anyone else I can't see them until after lunch. Or whatever."


"Alright, Joe." Daniels opened the counter door and stepped through. Although he was sweating through his shirt, he kept grinning as he walked, saying hello to the reporters he passed on his way, but not slowing or stopping. Once in his office, he locked the door, then moved behind his desk. The office had one window, tall and thin, and hot, bright rays poured through it. Daniels lay the paper down, then pulled his hand from his coat pocket and a .38 revolver thunked on the desk top. Daniels pulled off his coat and sat down, then turned to look out the window. The bushes were four feet high, and a wide lawn stretched out to the road. No one would casually walk by and see inside. Daniels turned and picked up the .38 with shaky hands. The gun was heavy, and he liked that. His fingers ran over the surface. Despite the summer heat, the metal was cool. He opened the chamber and looked in, then halfgrinned. It was still loaded. Daniels put the .38 in his top desk drawer, then opened the newspaper on his desk. As he started reading, his chin and hand stopped trembling. His eyes flickered over the headlines, then the photos. The colors lined up and gave sharp, crisp pictures. The new print foreman had done a great job – the old guy was color blind, literally color blind, and thank god he’d decided to retire. Daniels read the leads of the front page stories. All were smooth, and even the new girl had improved. Her leads used to read like a laundry list, but now she wrote with snap. Daniels went through each page, skimming the stories and lingering over the photos. Sometimes he smiled or grunted over an article or headline. In his six years at the paper, there’d been major improvements in production, reporting and writing, and he took full responsibility for all of them, whether he had a right to or not. But the changes in the color photos were staggering, and that especially pleased him, because everyone liked color. Daniels loved his paper. He loved the look of it, the feel, he loved to hear the pages rustle as he turned them, he even loved the ink that came off on his fingers. He liked watching the papers come off the press at night, the first copies light, like silhouettes,


then newer copies growing darker and darker, until faces in the photos blossomed and the type came out clean and clear. When Daniels finished his inspection, he folded up the paper, then reached in the bottom desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey. He'd brought it in the night before, after business hours. Daniels broke the seal, drained the old coffee dregs from his cup, and half-filled it. His hands trembled, so he poured slowly. Daniels swished the liquor around and sniffed it. He’d always loved Wild Turkey, and he wanted to enjoy the smell before he drank. Daniels tipped the mug back and felt the liquor sting its way down. His body had ached for alcohol the last eight years, and he'd always denied himself. He loved his bourbon, he'd really missed it. But, after eight years off, he had to slow down. Once he could finish a bottle in a night and not feel too bad the next day. But it was different now, so he only sipped. He reached into his desk and pulled out a photo of his girlfriend, which she’d given him two years earlier. He often took it out when he was alone, and now he held it with one hand as he drank with the other. She was laughing in the picture, and Daniels' heart thumped. He often thought about getting pictures of his son – and maybe even his wife – and putting them next to the other one on his desk, the one of he and the publisher shaking hands while holding up the "Best Small Newspaper in Florida" award they'd won three years earlier, in 1997. But Daniels had never gotten around to it, and now he never would. He suddenly missed his son, who was now 16 – or was it 17? And he felt guilty too, something he hadn't felt in a long time. Daniels put the photo of his girlfriend away and tried to forget about home. He had serious concerns now, especially with John Sparks, a local developer. Although Daniels disliked developers in general, he'd always given Sparks the benefit of the doubt. Sparks was the biggest player in Marlerville, and he'd always played straight with the city in the past, so Daniels had given him good press. He’d even considered Sparks a friend, and he regretted the way things had changed. Daniels continued to drink, and a few minutes before noon, Janeane called and said Dalton was in. Daniels' jaw trembled, but he ground his teeth and walked to the door. He opened it as Dalton, tall, thin and tanned, approached.


"Come in, Bob, sit down." Daniels grinned, as usual, but didn't offer his hand. Dalton walked to the chair nearest the door. Dalton's eyes flitted around the room as he sat, nose crinkling at the stink of sweat. Daniels sat down, poured another drink and swallowed half at once. The liquor had calmed him, and he was glad of that. He didn't want to start shaking. Daniels looked at Dalton and tilted the cup toward him. "I haven't had a drop to drink in eight years, Bob," Daniels said. "Eight long years, now I'm getting drunk." "I hope not over me," Dalton said. "Well, why not? You threatened my baby." Dalton shook his head. "No," he said. "This is between you and me. You could just leave and it'd end there." "Oh, but Bob, there's always the rumors, those nasty little stories that have a life all their own. People make up things out of nothing, always finding the worst reason for anything." Daniels looked down at his hands, then reached into the top drawer of his desk and shuffled around. Pens clicked against one another and paper crumpled as Daniels searched. Metal scraped on metal, then Daniels smiled and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He shook one loose, lit it, and leaned back in his chair. His hand still trembled slightly, but the cigarette hid it. Dalton watched the smoke drift through the air. "I thought smoking was banned indoors." "Yeah, what the fuck ever, Bob. I wouldn't worry about it." Dalton hated the stench of cigarette smoke, but at least it helped hide the salty sweat smell coming from Daniels. Dalton shook his head. "Is this all you want to do?" he asked. "Cry? You weren't crying when you wrote those stories. You hurt my business and you hurt my kids." There were no ashtrays in the building, so Daniels turned and flicked his ashes on the floor, then looked back at Dalton. "My one big contribution to journalism was this paper," Daniels said. "Everything good I ever did happened here. I took a broken down


newspaper and turned it around. Circulation went up 150 percent. I made corporate drop the canned crap and give me reporters to write local news. This is now a real newspaper because of me, did you know that?" "No," Dalton said. He smiled coldly and waited. He was impatient. He had a lot of work to do. He didn’t have time for Daniels. "Yeah, we started winning awards a few years ago. Broke a few big stories too. The nursing home scandal, and then influence peddling by one of the governor’s men. This little paper," Daniels said, thumping the desk with his forefinger, "broke two of the biggest stories in Florida. We embarrassed the Herald and the Times. Not bad for a little paper in the jerkwater of Florida." Dalton shifted in his seat, but said nothing. He was restless, and felt like a schoolboy getting lectured. "This paper has gone too far, Bob, to turn back or die. Especially just because I screwed up." Again, Dalton shifted in his seat, and his eyes dropped to the floor. Daniels bored him, he didn't intend to change his mind. "This town deserves a decent paper," Daniels said. "It finally got one." Dalton shook his head. "You're making this into a bigger deal than it is," he said. "Just leave. There's no advantage to me once you're gone." Dalton now looked up. "You're just whining." "I'm not whining," Daniels said. "I'm talking." Dalton had had enough, and he stood to leave. "You're wasting my time," he said, "and I have work to do. We both know where things stand." "Sit down, Bob." Dalton waved his hand and turned to the door. Daniels yanked open the top desk drawer and pulled out the gun. He slammed it onto the desk top, and a metal ring thrummed through the air. "Sit the fuck down, Bob," Daniels said.


Dalton froze, his fingertips on the knob, eyes on the .38. He stared at it for a long time, then let go of the knob. He was rattled. Whatever Daniels’ quirks, such as faulty grooming and mean-spirited editorials, he'd never done anything this stupid. Dalton shuffled back to the chair and sat down. His movements were slow, deliberate. He didn't know what may set Daniels off, so he was cautious. Dalton leaned back in the chair and tried to think. He felt disconnected from the event, as if he weren't really in the room, but rather just watching. It took many moments before he could wade through the jumble of thoughts and reach clarity, but as the shock wore off, so did his fear. He felt Daniels was really a coward, that he would never shoot. He was a big mouth, full of threats, but nothing more. Dalton smiled and decided he could walk out if he wanted. Dalton grabbed the chair arms and leaned forward to go, but stopped himself. He now had a sort of gruesome curiosity. Daniels, as a man, was breaking down in front of him, and it was like watching an accident in slow motion – Dalton couldn't look away. During the moments Dalton sat and considered his situation, Daniels had put down the cigarette and poured another drink with his left hand, while his right remained near the gun. Daniels put the bottle down, then took a long swallow. He was lightheaded, and he watched the liquor swish in the bottom of the cup. His guts were knotted up. Although the alcohol steadied him, he didn't know what he'd have done if Dalton had kept going, if anything at all. It’d been a close call. "You know," Daniels said, "getting off the bottle was the hardest thing I ever did. I suffered, my sponsor suffered, I cried night after night. I loved drinking, Bob, it revved me up. The times I had while drunk, the things I did, they were wild. Without it, I sometimes think I've lost something. An edge, maybe. But the liquor does bad things too, and it took over. It almost ruined me." Dalton sighed and slumped in his chair, his legs stretched out in front of him. "Sit up, Bob," Daniels said, and picked up the gun and slammed it once on the desk top. "I want you to pay attention." Dalton sat up, but slowly. Daniels poured another drink. "Two years later, I got this job, and that was six years ago. They were hurting so bad here, no one else would take it. Corporate almost closed the paper, it was that close. Did you know that?"


"I don't care," Dalton said. Daniels threw up a hand. "Of course you don't, Bob. You only care about Bob." "And my children." Daniels shook his head and picked up his cigarette. "You'd sell your kids for a better lease." "No," Dalton said, "everything I do is for my kids. My kids are my life." Daniels grinned and sucked on his cigarette. "Is that so?" "Yes," Dalton said. He expected a reply, but Daniels said nothing. "So why am I here?" Dalton asked. "Sparks is your problem." "Yeah I know, ultimately, he's the cause of all my current woes. You know, I should have asked for cash instead of taking a check. Goddamn, that was stupid, but I had a lot of problems. I needed money, and I needed it right away. But I paid him back, every damn dime." Daniels stamped out the old cigarette, picked up another and lit it. He stared in a corner as he blew out smoke. "I suppose John thought the loan would buy him immunity." Dalton's eyes flitted over Daniels, down to the gun, then back up. "So it didn't?" Daniels shook his head. "I'm an idiot," he said, "and I know it, but I won't sell out this paper." He fell silent and his eyes wandered to the folded newspaper on his desk. He pulled it closer to him, caressed it with one hand, and ink rubbed off on his fingers. "I know it's just paper and ink, but it means more to me than that. I can't explain it very well. I'm an editor, a writer, and I still can't explain it.‖ Daniels smiled. ―I'm better at facts than emotions." Dalton laughed inside as Daniels went on and on. He hated Daniels. He hated him for the editorials, he hated him for the questions his kids now asked, and he’d hated him for being powerless to hit back. Now things had changed "I know about Sparks' dealings with the commission," Daniels said. "He tried to buy off at least one commissioner." "Can you prove that?"


"Oh yeah, I can prove it, and Sparks knows it. I was once a first-rate reporter, Bob. I was nominated for a Pulitzer once, before the liquor got me." "So go to Sparks. This has nothing to do with me." "But you have the check now. I have Sparks' ass, but not yours. Not in any way that matters." Dalton smiled and crossed his legs. ―And I suppose someone slipped the canceled check under your door one night?‖ ―Yes.‖ ―And just a few weeks after Spark’s house gets ransacked by a person or persons unknown, leaving him off the hook if anyone asks about it.‖ "Yes,‖ Dalton said. ―So we're back where we started. You leave town, or the check goes public." Daniels nodded. "Yeah, it's something like that. And if it would end at that, I'd just go. But you'd have the check, or a copy, and you could still hurt the paper. You could threaten the next editor, put him in a bad position. And the publisher, he's a nice guy, but he's nutless. To avoid bad press, he'd bend over and let you fuck the paper. And, of course, my sudden departure leaves questions in the air. Questions that give you an extra edge." "The check is worthless once you're gone." Daniels shook his head and stared off at the corner again. "I don't know Bob, I don't think so. I really don't." "So what do you plan to do?" Daniels picked up the gun, leaned back in his chair, and tried hard to grin. "Drink until I'm ready to kill you." Dalton looked from Daniels to the gun and back. Daniels' eyes were half-glazed, and he held the gun loosely, carelessly. Dalton knew that a man will do almost anything if drunk enough, and if Daniels thought he was on some holy mission, maybe he'd do it, maybe he'd kill. He wasn't the brightest guy in the world.


So what were the options? Daniels was too big to fight for the gun. Although halfdrunk, he was twice Dalton's size, with muscle under his layers of fat. Dalton could try to weasel out, try to convince Daniels that he wasn't such a threat. Just leave Joe, and the issue dies. It's not all or nothing. But Dalton was also convinced that at bottom, Daniels was really a coward, and cowards grow bold when they sense weakness. Give a little, and Daniels will get pushy. So be hard, Dalton decided, call his bluff. And that's what he did. "I always thought you were gutless," Dalton said, his voice calm. "but now I know. You don't have the balls to kill me sober. But then what happens? Go to jail? What about your kid, and your wife? Daddy's a murderer. What a proud papa you'd be then, looking out from death row." "I've got that planned out too." "An escape plan? The foolproof murder?" "No. Something else." "Well?" Daniels laughed a moment, a high-pitched effort, then his jaw began to tremble again. "You know, everything I ever hammered you about, every time I pounded you in print, you deserved it." Dalton jumped to his feet. "Cut the crap," he yelled. "Save it for the suckers who read your rag. You're a fuck-up. A fuck-up loser drunk. So get out of town before you fuck it up more." Daniels leaned forward in his chair and slammed a fist on the desk. "I know you're a crook," Daniels said, fighting to keep the quaver from his voice. "You get what you want with threats and bribes. I can't prove it, you're too smart in the dirty shit, but I know Bob, so fuck you. Understand?" Dalton smiled as he looked down at Daniels, and he gloated inside. It had taken him a few minutes, but now he realized he wouldn't have to use the check, he could nail Daniels for pulling the gun.


"Get out of town by this weekend," Dalton said, "or you fuck this paper. I don't give a damn about you or it." Dalton turned and reached for the door. Daniels stood, aimed, and put a bullet in the back of Dalton's head. Blood and brains splattered over the wall and door. The thunder from the gun echoed around the room, but Daniels didn't notice. His ears began to ring, and he couldn't hear the screams from outside the office, or the banging on his door, though it wouldn't have mattered anyway. Daniels sat down. "I have it all planned out, Bob. You fucked with the wrong guy." Daniels took a long drink from the bottle, then grabbed the gun with both hands, and they shook. He shoved the barrel into his mouth, and it rattled against his teeth. He clenched his jaw, then closed his eyes.

Milan Smith has published 42 short stories in various magazines, including Pear Noir, Everyday Fiction, and Big Pulp. After he got his bachelors he tried the business world for two years, and hated it. Then he tried journalism, hated that, too. Finally, he decided to try writing, and loves it.


Suicide Can Not Be Conclusively Blamed on Occupation By Kenneth P. Gurney

Poets kill themselves far less often than Medical Professionals.

Poets kill themselves not quite as often as Security Guards.

Poets commit suicide almost as often as Pilots.

No one records how many Pilots Security Guards and Medical Professionals

secretly write poetry in the privacy of their homes and hide it in their sock drawers.

Kenneth P. Gurney lives in Albuquerque, NM, USA with his beloved Dianne. He edits the anthology Adobe Walls which contains the poetry of New Mexico. His latest book is This is not Black & White.


A.M. / P.M. By Joan McNerney

A W A K E to

over

a

coffee

world of

hard butter

alarm

Morning Becomes Electric crumb-

clocks

ling

frantic

on

radios

burnt

left-

toast.


P E E L rings coils off of pencils complicity. scissors rationality index cards paper clips white bond telephone M

I

N

with hipsters

diamond

L

E

stars

strapped pan-

newspaper hawkers

G

handlers in

with

in

boiling licorice

night perfumed

speech-

less black.

Joan McNerney was born in Brooklyn, New York and now resides in Ravena, a town outside of Albany, New York. She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree in English from the Board of Regents, New York State Excelsior University. Most of her professional background has been spent in the advertising business. Her poetry has been included in numerous literary magazines such as Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Blueline, 63 channels, Spectrum, and three Bright Spring Press Anthologies. She has been nominated twice for "Best of the Net" in 2011. Four of her books have been published by fine small literary presses. She has recited her work at the National Arts Club, Russell Sage College, McNay Art Institute and other distinguished venues. A recent reading was sponsored by the American Academy of Poetry.


Veranda Coffee Shop, Last Day of the Conference By Tobi Cogswell

The communal table a bar of sorts for carbohydrate lovers rather than drunks every day for six days she sits on that stool, puts down her wallet, her book, her glasses and orders her eggs. She collects books with questions of provenance, reads the inscriptions as if she were psychic as much as she reads the text – ―Linda was never my wife, she is my partner‖, ―For Joan, wishing for better days ahead‖ and the one that makes her blush – ―In praise of the love our mouths give and receive in this blessed time we share on earth…‖ at this a bite of toast. She notices Tom at the end, quiet and six days of oatmeal got his hair cut yesterday, and Loudmouth Loretta is speaking on her phone softly for once. She greets the other indigents as they come and go, cogs in a shaky conference wheel, just like her.

Tobi Cogswell is a two-time Pushcart nominee. Publication credits include Illya’s Honey, REAL, Red River Review, Inkspill (UK), Iodine Poetry Journal, The Smoking Poet, Slipstream, Chiron Review, Blinking Curson (UK), Untitled Country Review and Hawai’i Pacific Review among others, and are forthcoming in, Paper Nautilus, North Chicago Review, The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland), StepAway (UK), Ballard Street Poetry Journal, Compass Rose, Front Porch Review, Alligator Stew (UK) and Pale House - Letters to Los Angeles. Her latest chapbook is ―Surface Effects in Winter Wind‖, (Kindred Spirit Press). She is the co-editor of San Pedro River Review.


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Crack The Spine - Issue 5  

Literary Magazine

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